Gone is the 9-5 for 35 years and then retirement. These days, people have several jobs, hobbies and side-hustles.
What you should know
If you’re selling antiques on Etsy, or driving for a ride-hailing company, chances are you’re an independent contractor. This means you don’t have an “employer” who pays you a salary where taxes and other deductions are automatically made.
Typically, a gig economy worker exchanges stability for flexibility. Often, they’ll cobble together several income sources to make a living.
But, this means you won’t be protected by BC’s main law protecting workers. The Employment Standards Act provides "employees" with basic rights, like minimum wages, vacation pay, and a special court system if you want to complain about being mistreated.
Often, you might not realize you are a contractor rather than an employee. This could happen if, say, you have a part-time job where you get a cheque every two weeks, but it doesn’t include any deductions for taxes or other items.
The difference is important.
Ask your boss about your employment status. This isn’t foolproof, but if you are on good terms, your boss can shed light on this.
If you’re working for one employer full time, you’re more likely to be an employee.
If your boss has significant control and direction over your schedule and tasks, you’re more likely to be an employee.
Is it for you?
Gig economy workers rarely make the same amount of money each month, or even each year. Just like planning for taxes, contractors have to be ready to ride the ups and downs of running their own business.
Contractors typically have flexibility to get things done on their own time. Freedom from a 9-5 is enticing, but it comes with the responsibility of being self-motivated in order to deliver. This is often harder than it seems!
It seems simple, but at work, there are typically other people there. It provides a social context and an opportunity to be part of a different community than your family and friends.
Contractors often work on their own. This can be at a shared work space, but it’s often from the kitchen table or a cafe. If you’re a social animal, contract work can be lonely.
You’re not given a computer, a truck or a phone if you’re a contractor. You may need to spend a chunk of money to get the necessary tools and equipment to work on your own.
As a contractor, there are no special laws to protect you. You’ll have to rely on general contract laws to ensure, for one thing, that you get paid. Depending on the type of work you do, you may also need to buy insurance to protect yourself against liability.
Consider creating your own written contract template. That way you and your clients will have certainty on deliverables, payment and other key terms. You should also explore taking deposits before you do any work.
You’re going to have to set aside money to pay your taxes. This can be annually, or even quarterly. A good tip here is to use a tax calculator to estimate how much money you’ll need to save from your income. You can try this one.
Nobody will be deducting taxes from your paycheques, and you'll need to keep track of your expenses to maximize cost savings. Make sure you aren't caught flat-footed by the CRA.
As an independent contractor, you don’t want to be overly dependent on one gig. If something happens to that one client, you’re left scrambling.
Take the time to diversify your workload. Seek out new clients. Offer to do different tasks for your existing clients, showing off your versatility.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada